ROAD IMPRESSIONS

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A Pair of Lancias
The Lancia Fulvia 1300 Coupe S3

WHEN THE Lancia Beta Coupe was announced the impression given was that it would replace the much-loved Fulvia Coupe series. In fact no such thing has happened, the attractive, ageless design of this ten year old car continuing at least until the end of this year. Only the Series 3 1300 Coupe is now offered; that splendid 1600 HF, practically a production rally car and one of the most successful cars in the history of rallying, has now bitten the dust.

At £2,344 the Fulvia Coupe sounds expensive for a mere 1300 (except by Ford’s latest prices) with only two doors, and two full-size seats, for the back bench seat, in fairness to the human frame, is suitable only for children. In practice it is a gem of a car, well worth its price, with wonderful handling and roadholding from its front-wheel-drive layout, good performance from an efficient engine and an endearing character.

The Fulvia is the last car in Lancia’s range to use the compact, narrow-vee, four cylinder engine; each bank of two cylinders, operating at 13 degrees to each other, has a chain-driven, single overhead camshaft which operates in effect as would each camshaft of a twin-overhead camshaft straight-four unit. The right-hand camshaft controls the inlet valves, the left-hand one controls the exhaust valves. A quick underbonnet glance suggests the 45-degree-inclined engine to be a twin-overhead camshaft straight-four until one sees the staggered positions of the Marelli plugs buried in the one-piece, Lancia-monogrammed, alloy camshaft cover. The aluminium cylinder head is a one-piece casting, too. This small version of the engine has a 77 mm. bore, a 69.7 mm. stroke, a compression ratio of 9.5:1 (it runs quite happily on four-star) and a capacity of 1,298 c.c. Two twin-choke, horizontal Solex C 35 PHH-E/2 carburetters and a big, dry-element air-cleaner fill the centre of the engine bay. So far forward towards the nearside is the engine that the radiator has to be positioned towards the offside of the car, cooling being assisted by an electric fan. There remains room for the Fiamm battery mounted lengthwise and direct-acting brake servo with tandem master cylinder behind the engine.

This little car weighs just over 19 cwt. at the kerb, heavier than one would imagine and a reflection on the quality of its manufacture. Fortunately the diminutive engine has such a high output that it is well able to cope. No less than 90 b.h.p. DIN and 83.9 lb./ft. DIN is produced. The catch is that these figures are produced at 6,000 r.p.m. and 5,000 r.p.m. respectively, meaning that the big wooden gear lever knob has to be manhandled pretty energetically. It controls five beautifully spaced ratios of which fifth gear is direct, so not an overdrive. On the test car the synchromesh baulked on first and second gears when cold and positive movements were always called for. Some drivers may object to the positioning of first gear down to the left with the upper four ratios in H-pattern; this writer prefers it that way. Low gearing (17.97 m.p.h./1,000 r.p.m. in fifth) means that the speed ranges in the lower gears are poor, four gear changes being needed by 62 m.p.h. if the handbook’s recommended 6,200 r.p.m. limit is adhered to: 1st gear is good for 27 m.p.h., 2nd for 41 m.p.h., 3rd 62 m.p.h., 4th 87 m.p.h. and 5th 105 m.p.h. In fact the emphatic red sector on the tachometer starts at 6,450 r.p.m., which this willing little engine will whirl past in 5th gear if the driver doesn’t take care. Full use of the gearbox is essential for quick progress through town and if sufficient revs aren’t used at traffic lights the Fulvia driver soon finds himself left standing by much lowlier vehicles.

There is nothing much simpler than a Fulvia Coupe’s suspension: at the rear a dead axle is suspended upon semi-elliptic leaf springs and controlled by telescopic dampers, an anti-roll bar and a Panhard rod; almost unbelievably, a transverse leaf spring provides the suspension medium at the front, though each wheel is independently suspended by double wishbones, controlled by telescopic shock-absorber’s and an anti-roll bar. It is a brilliant example of simplification, as rally results prove. With the 1300 engine it is practically impossible to find the limit of adhesion of the 165 x 14 Michelin ZX tyres in either wet or dry conditions. Its natural tendency is to understeer, though never with the feel that it is likely to plough straight on. In any case, lifting off the throttle in the middle of a corner neutralises the understeer. There is only moderate roll and practically none of the disturbing torque reaction at the front wheels which afflict many front-wheel-drive cars under acceleration out of corners, a situation which shows up excellent traction, too. Much of the excellence of the suspension lies in the damping, which ensures optimum tyre/road contact all the time. Yet this isn’t at the expense of ride, which though firm generally soaks up rough roads without too much disturbance. Somehow Lancia engineers have managed to insulate road and suspension noise very well too. Worm and roller steering rather than rack and pinion came as something of a surprise, particularly because of the excellence of response and feel through the comfortable, padded wheel. But it is too low geared for town use and quite heavy when parking. The all-disc braking system is magnificent, combining with the roadholding and handling to make this 1300 Fulvia an exceptionally rapid, cross-country conveyance.

Compact but cosy describe the cockpit( which is tidily carpeted and features cloth trimming for the comfortable reclining front seats (with built-in adjustable headrests), rear bench and panels of the two wide doors. As with most Italian designs, the steering wheel/pedal relationship is poor and the clutch and brake pedals too high off the floor, though proper heeling and toeing is possible with the organ throttle pedal. Those fixed seat belts should be scrapped in favour of inertia; it was easier to suffer the three or four attempts needed to start the engine from cold without choke rather than attempt to reach the choke lever hidden below the facia. The wooden facia panel is simple and a bit old-fashioned but effective, water temperature gauge, oil pressure gauge, fuel gauge, tachometer, speedometer with trip and clock all being included. An impressive array of warning lights provides other information. In the damp cold weather of the test the heating system proved to be so effective that it would even demist the rear screen within minutes if on the move without needing the finely-wired heated rear screen. Lights, wipers, inadequately powerful washers and so on are controlled by steering column stalks. There is a lockable cubby-hole on the passenger side and open stowage wells on each side, but most of the boot room is taken by the floor-mounted spare wheel. The twin headlamp system is powerful. Another good point is splendid all-round visibility because of slim pillars and a high seating position.

A feeling of quality and overall tautness is immediately apparent in this very likeable sports car. Its engine is a little buzzy but the general noise level, especially when cruising is not uncomfortable. Using the engine as energetically as possible consumption worked out at 27 m.p.g. from the 8.35-gallon tank.

This Lancia Fulvia 1300 Coupe Series 3 is not a car for an unsympathetic driver, simply because of the need to use the gearbox and engine intelligently. But a fabulously rewarding little car for a good driver.—C.R.

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